Oklahoma Sooners open Big 12 Conference play against Iowa State

A top-15 matchup kicks off the conference schedule for both teams

Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2015-16 season.

No. 11 Iowa State Cyclones (11-1) at No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (11-0)

TV/Radio: ESPN2/107.7 FM

Series: Oklahoma, 118-34.

All eyes on Oklahoma

If being one of only three unbeaten teams left in the country wasn’t enough, Oklahoma opens the Big 12 Conference season with arguably the toughest two-game stretch of any team this season.

On nationally television twice in a little more than 48 hours, Oklahoma faces two top-11 teams – Iowa State and then on the road at Kansas. The chance for a  distraction is obvious.

“You can’t let that get to your head,” said Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, who ranks fourth in the nation with 24.9 points per game. “You have to keep your focus on going out there and executing and winning ball games.

“If we keep on doing that and staying within ourselves and stay humble, we know the temptation is going to be there because we have two big games coming up. We have to take it one game at a time and execute and try to win basketball.”

It starts with Iowa State, when Hield will face a familiar nemesis. Hield and Georges Niang have played each other eight times in their extended careers – both are finally seniors. It’s been like that for most players on both rosters. The one-on-one matchup is consistently built as a Big 12 Player of the Year showdown.

“You just have to be focused you can’t be too involved in the hype,” Hield said. “This is a big game. It’s the first conference game. You have to focused and execute and get a lot of defensive stops.”

Khadeem catching on

In the week leading up to the Sooners’ win against Creighton, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger saw really significant steps from Khadeem Lattin – the Sooners’ fifth starter and their only non-veteran presence in the starting lineup.

He’s had three of the four-highest scoring games of his career since then, including a 17-point performance against Hawaii in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic. Some go to Hawaii for a tan, but Lattin brought back an offensive game.

“He continues to take nice steps,” Kruger said. “He’s done that lately here on the offensive side of it. Good to see. We need that a lot.”

Lattin has gotten more aggressive on both ends of the court, and it’s showing. He’s 16-for-26 over the last four games and is averaging 9.5 points and six rebounds per game.

“You’d like to see all of your guys elevate their game,” Kruger said. “Any time one guy does, whether it’s Khadeem or Ryan or Buddy or Isaiah or Jordan, it makes us better. The more good players we have playing well, the better. . . . He’s made big progress in those areas. He’s made us better.”

The changed Cyclones?

Iowa State is only 12 games into the tenure of first-year head coach Steve Prohm after Fred Hoiberg brought the Cyclones into the national spotlight before moving on to the NBA. Not much has changed for No. 11 Iowa State.

Led by Niang, point guard Monte Morrisand rising star forward Jameel McKay, Iowa State continues to do some of the same things on the offensive end.

“Many more similarities than differences for sure,” Kruger said. “They spread the floor. They space it great. Individually, they can make really good plays off the dribble. They move the ball well. They shoot it well. All those things are very similar to last year.”

McKay though has been the biggest game-changer. He’s averaging nearly a double-double this season (14.4-95) and is shooting 62.5 percent.

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